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Women and Pensions: What Women need to know and do
by:

Cindy Morus

While all workers need to save more for retirement, women face additional challenges because they have lower earnings, experience higher job turnover, step out of the work force to take care of children and/or parents and are employed in industries with low or no pension coverage. Women need to save at least 12% of their pay. This would include any retirement account contributions made before you get your check (such as 401k, 403b or deferred compensation). Your best savings vehicle is a tax-deferred account such as a 401k, 403b, IRA, SEP or Roth IRA because your earnings are sheltered from taxes until you retire. OR in the case of Roth IRA's you'll never have to pay taxes on your earnings because you paid taxes on the money before it was contributed to the account. Check with your tax preparer to see which retirement options are best for your situation. Just remember to "save early and often"! * Does your employer have a pension plan? Employers are not required to have a pension plan. You need to find out from your employer if a plan is offered. * Do you know what type of plan it is?

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There are two basic types of pension plans. A traditional plan promises a specified pension benefit at retirement usually based on the years you worked and your salary. A defined contribution plan, such as a "401(k) or 403(b) plan," maintains separate accounts for each person and retirement benefits are based on the amount in your account. These names come from the portion of the tax code that describes them. * Are you included in the plan? Pension plans do not have to include every worker. Some jobs may be excluded from the plan and part-time workers may not be covered. Check with your plan administrator (the person running the plan), personnel office or union representative to make sure that you are a plan member or to find out how to become one. * Have you worked long enough to earn a pension? Generally you must work five years under a plan to qualify for benefits, although some types of plans still require ten years of work to earn a benefit. Some plans require less than five years. Ask the person running your plan for a summary plan description which describes the plan and its requirements. * Do you know how much your pension will be? The summary plan description should tell you how your benefit will be calculated. Your employer may give you or you may request an individual benefit statement showing the value of your pension benefit. The individual benefit statement should show the benefits you have actually earned to date and a projection of your benefit at retirement. * Do you know what happens to your pension if you retire early? If your traditional plan allows you to collect pension benefits before "normal" retirement age (65 in many plans) your benefit may be reduced since you will be getting benefits for a longer period of time. * Do you know what happens to your pension if you change jobs?

If you have not worked long enough to qualify for benefits, you will lose your pension. If you qualify for benefits, some plans will keep your pension until you reach retirement age. Others will allow you to take your money out in a lump sum. If you take the money, you will have to pay a tax penalty unless you roll the money over into another pension plan or IRA. * Do you know what happens to a pension if you or your spouse dies? In a traditional private pension plan, you may be entitled to receive a benefit from your spouse's plan when he dies. This "survivor" benefit is automatic unless both spouses agree, in writing, to give it up. If you are in a government plan or a defined contribution plan the rules may be different. * Is your pension insured? Most traditional company and union pension plans are insured by the federal government through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). PBGC pays benefits up to a maximum guarantee if plans fall short. Plans where you have an individual account and government plans are not insured. * Do you have pension information from all your jobs? If you earned a pension at a previous job, contact the plan to get information on your benefit. Also, when you apply for Social Security, you can find out what private sector pension benefits you may have earned. Finally, contact PBGC for help in locating your benefits from a private sector plan that no longer exists. Be sure to keep all employment and pension-related records with other important papers. * Do you know what benefits your spouse's plan provides? If you are a beneficiary under your spouse's pension plan, you may request a copy of a summary plan description from the plan administrator (generally the employer) which describes the plan, your rights under the plan, and whether survivor annuities or other death benefits are provided under the plan. You may also make a written request for copies of plan documents and a statement describing your spouse's vested benefits under the plan. There may be a charge for the information and your request may have to be in writing. * Are you entitled to a portion of your spouse's pension benefit if you get divorced? As part of a divorce or legal separation, you may be able to obtain rights to a portion of your spouse's pension benefit (or he may be able to obtain a portion of yours). In a private plan, this is done using a "qualified domestic relations order" (QDRO) issued by the court. You or your attorney should consult with the administrator of your spouse's plan to determine what requirements the QDRO needs to meet. * Do you know the Social Security benefits to which you may be entitled? Your Social Security benefits will be based on your earnings during your working career. You may also be entitled to benefits as a spouse, ex-spouse, or widow based on your spouse's earnings. Periodically, you should verify that your earnings on file with the Social Security Administration are correct. * Can my pension benefits be reduced by Social Security or other government payments? Some pension plans offset a portion of your benefit by some of the amount you receive under Social Security. Likewise, if you or your spouse have a government pension, it may affect the amount of your Social Security benefits. Your plan administrator will be able to advise you. * Do you know how you can save for retirement if you do not have a pension plan? Anyone with earned income can put money into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Or, if you are self-employed, you can establish a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) or "Keogh" plan. About the author: Cindy S. Morus (www.phelps-creek.com) is a Certified Financial Recovery Counselor specializing in showing women and their families how to achieve financial well-being and peace of mind. She is also a Certified Credit Report Reviewer and Get Clients NOW!™ licensee. Contact her at 541-387-2995 or cmorus@phelps-creek.com She is also the publisher and editor of "Financial Fitness", an internet gazette dedicated to helping people improve their financial fitness no matter what decisions were made in the past.
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